CBA Chairmanâ€™s Announcement – 12.02.14
CBA Chairman’s Announcement
Wednesday 12 February 2014
Personal Email: [email protected]
The response to the second Consultation Response on Legal Aid is imminent. The feedback from the meetings held yesterday between the Ministry of Justice and Nick Lavender QC and then separately with representatives of the Solicitors’ profession is “that there is nothing fresh to report” – this Ministry is not for turning. They have made it clear that their only concern is to deliver £220m of cuts to their departmental budget, £35m of which is the figure they say is needed to save the future of the independent criminal bar.
It does not matter that we have shown these savings are not in fact necessary. It does not matter that we have shown them the false economy of their proposals or that such savage cuts will cost the Government more than they save in the long run. They do not care about the impact on the future of the criminal justice system in this country. They do not care about the fundamental rights of the thousands of individuals who may need access to justice, fair and proper legal representation in the future. They are not at all bothered about the long term risks to public safety – especially when there is a lack of expert and experienced professionals to undertake complex prosecutions in years to come. They do not heed the risk they run of losing the £billions of investment that the legal services industry currently attracts to the UK. They pay lip service to making “savings for the UK taxpayer” – while funding advocates to join an expanded PDS service, offering significantly higher remuneration packages than those who work at the independent Bar. Just so long as they can deliver the promised cuts to the Treasury. In summary, as has been eloquently expressed by others, they know “the price of everything and the value of nothing”.
Their legal aid “slash & burn” policy continues with no review of the 30% cuts already introduced for VHCC cases, just the promise of further cuts to come. No other section of society and no other publicly funded profession face such an onslaught or have been subjected to a series of fee cuts already imposed year on year, the last of which we say will continue to deliver savings not yet properly calculated into the Ministry’s budget. We must be unique amongst professions in not having sought an increase in our fees but are content for the time being to accept a pay freeze. The independent Criminal Bar cannot survive such cuts and the fabric of the criminal justice system will be ripped apart as a result.
Our willingness to engage with the Ministry is genuine – we continue to offer them our assistance in exposing the waste in the system and finding the savings they say are required. But we cannot sit idly by whilst barristers are driven to bankruptcy, the profession is destroyed or while the future of access to justice is dismantled by stealth.
The purpose of any action must be to show the Government the depth of the resolve among the legal profession to speak as one voice. We must show them the value of what they are so willing to destroy. The publicly funded, independent Criminal Bar is the glue that holds the criminal justice system together: without it – and its continuing goodwill – it is not possible to run an efficient and cost effective system.
The CBA Executive, representing the views of the membership across the national Criminal Bar, met on Monday night to discuss a range of possible responses.
DAY OF ACTION
Individual members of the CBA have decided that they will no longer be available/will not work during the day of 7th March. Those of you who want to show your support will decide whether you too will choose not to work on that day. This date will coincide with a training day being called for by solicitors.
Traditionally, criminal barristers have kept the courts running smoothly by covering cases for each other to ensure that every defendant has a barrister in court when the case is called on. This practice of cooperation (known as ‘returns’) assists in a timely, efficient and cost effective system. This tradition is part of the goodwill provided by the Bar, often for little or no pay.
Individual members of the CBA have decided that, with effect from 7th March, they will suspend their willingness to undertake returns for other members of the Bar and will only do their own work. Those of you who want to show your support will decide whether you too will do the same.
This appears to be a wholly reasonable and proportionate response to the conduct of the MOJ. Of course, were the Ministry to agree to halt the cuts – at least pending the Jeffrey Review as we have proposed – and engage meaningfully in an effective dialogue with the CBA, such steps would become unnecessary.